Early ninjas were credited with being more than just excellent guerrilla fighters and spies – they were ascribed mystical powers that allowed them to levitate, disappear in a cloud of smoke, and do multitudes of other supernatural deeds. One of the most famous of these early Ninjas is Kato Danzo, who unlike most Ninjas, forsook anonymity for celebrity status as an illusionist.
He was credited with great feats of magic. In one such tale, he swallowed a bull whole in front of a crowd of over 20 witnesses. In another, he threw seeds into the ground in front of the audience, and they watched as before them the seeds sprouted and flowered. From these and other such tales, Kato quickly gained a reputation with the powerful nearby landowners (daimyos), and they were afraid of him.
Interestingly enough, Kato desired and solicited employment from a local daimyo named Uesugi Kenshin. Due to his fear, Uesugi was not happy about this, and, under the guise of testing Kao, tasked him with stealing a sword from one of his rivals. Hoping Kato would die in the attempt, Uesugi stacked the deck against him. Uesugi secretly alerted his rival that Kato was coming. Yet, somehow, Kata still managed to acquire the sword.
The escape, however, is the interesting part, though sources differ on exactly how he managed to do so. In one version, he made a life-sized dummy of himself attached with a long rope and threw it over the hedge wall. The guards, seeing the dummy, all fired their arrows. Imagine their shock when, instead of dying, “Kato” straightened up, and then levitated into the air, still full of arrows! Another version has him enchant a gourd, from which dancing dolls sprung forth and distracted the guards long enough for him to get away. From these, Kato gained the name “Tobi”, which means “flying”.
Unfortunately, Kato’s luck eventually ran out. Not wanting to work for a man trying to kill him, Kato switched employment from Uesugi to Uesugi’s archrival Takeda. He made the wrong choice. Taekeda thought him too dangerous and ordered Kato decapitated. Thus ended the short but miraculous story of Kato Danzo.